Thursday, January 17, 2008

Transfer files and settings to a new PC

At one time or another, most users have faced the daunting challenge of migrating to a new PC. What many users don't know is that Windows XP comes with a tool designed to simplify the process: the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard (FAST for short).

Although FAST doesn't move installed applications, it does copy folders, address books, e-mail accounts and messages, IE favorites, Outlook data, and most other crucial files and settings. It's easy to use and comes free with Windows XP.

You can find FAST by clicking Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools. The utility can copy all your stuff via a network, a direct cable connection between the two PCs, or removable media (like a portable hard drive). I've used the wizard numerous times in the past, and it always works like a champ. And I'll be using it when my shiny new notebook arrives next week.

What's your favorite migration method? Would you like to see a Lifehacker feature detailing the step-by-step process of moving to a new PC? Let us know in the comments! — Rick Broida

6:30 AM ON TUE OCT 31 2006

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No commenter image uploaded BY OWENBLACKER AT 10/31/06 08:37 AM

Very useful little app. Not always reliable, though.

We recently got shiny new dev PCs at work (I'm a .Net developer) and the FAST Wizard worked beautifully, except that it brought along some Registry setting that borked Visual Studio[1].

Several colleagues found the same thing and we couldn't find any solution other than to toast the machine and slap a new image on it, then import our profiles manually, avoiding the FAST Wizard.

So yes, very useful utility, but don't rely on it working 100% and test your new system is stable before ditching the old one.


No commenter image uploaded BY BAZ AT 10/31/06 08:42 AM

I know that this wizard does transfers over a network or direct cable connection. I did not realize that it could also do a dump to removable media.

I've always done stuff by hand when switching systems. I'm not at my home system right now can any one tell me if it can burn a serious of 700MB discs, or at least create images? Or at least dump to a file that I can zip and split across several CDs to to an import onto the other system.

I'm asking because I'm trying to provide instructions for someone who is trying to do this same thing. The problem is that the two systems will never be in the same place so no network is possible.

No commenter image uploaded BY JAMIETOPOL AT 10/31/06 09:01 AM

I just migrated to a new computer over the past weekend. The FAST wizard worked great. Here are the steps I followed:
Unpacked and set up the PC, including connecting it to my router.
Turned on the computer and followed the prompts for the initial setup (e.g. select my time zone, agree to the software license, etc.).
Hooked up my external hard drive (USB) and used the Windows Backup utility (available under Programs, Accessories, System Tools) to make a full backup of the new PC (since it didn't come with a "restore" CD).
Deleted all of the pre-installed software that I didn't want to keep (e.g. AOL, MS Works, McAfee, etc.).
Installed all of the software I want to use on the new PC (AVG Anti virus, Zone Alarm, Microsoft Office, etc.). Since I was installing the same copy of Office on a second computer, I was prompted to to call Microsoft for "permission" but the call was toll-free, answered quickly, and went without a hitch.
Made another full backup to my external drive.
Launched the FAST Wizard on my new PC and followed the prompts to transfer all of the files and settings from my old PC to my new one. It only took a few minutes to answer all of the Wizard questions, but then it took several hours (unattended) for all of the files to transfer (MP3s, photos, etc. = several gigs of files).
Made a final full backup to my external drive.
Burned the backups to blank DVDs. I had to use a file-splitting program for the final backup since it was too big to fit on one DVD. The earlier backups fit on one double-layer DVD.
This process took some time, but went very smoothly.

Image of Skadus BY SKADUS AT 10/31/06 09:11 AM

One problem I've had with it (someone please correct me if I'm wrong and it was user error) is it doesn't seem to copy Application Data, which is used by many, if not all, open-source apps, and several others. I recall using FAST at the office once and noticing this. Very, very frightening when you open Firefox for the first time after using it and wonder where the heck your profile went.

Luckily, I was just using FAST to duplicate my profile on my work computer, so copying AppData to the new profile was pretty simple.

Image of justrick BY JUSTRICK AT 10/31/06 10:07 AM

@Skadus: You're right; Firefox wasn't even a gleam in Mozilla's eye when FAST was developed, so it's not surprising (though definitely disappointing) that it doesn't transfer bookmarks and whatnot. The tool is better suited to users who rely more heavily on Office, Outlook, and other Microsoft apps.

Image of Craig BY CRAIG AT 10/31/06 10:22 AM

I've used an application called MoveMe in the past to migrate between computers. It has a distinct advantage over FAST in that it lets you migrate applications in addition to files and settings. You can migrate over a network, via a USB connection, or using removable media (including an external hard drive). $30 for a single migration and well worth it in terms of saved time. (I have no association with the company.)

No commenter image uploaded BY ROGERKAPLAN AT 10/31/06 10:39 AM

I have held off purchasing a new computer for fear of moving my environment. I have way too many apps, hacks, addins, etc, and none of the PC-moving programs out there will work.

If the two computers are of recent vintage, and you have a real Windows CD (not a recovery disk).. buy a new hard drive, use a utility like Ghost to duplicate your existing drive (to be safe!), then install the new drive into your new PC. Boot with your Windows CD and choose Repair. If you're lucky, your old computer will reappear within your new computer. You will probably have to re-activate Windows.

More details here:

Image of Brad BY BRAD AT 10/31/06 03:31 PM

I totally forgot about this. It might come in handy when setting up my wife's new laptop (she has an all-Windows workplace, so I couldn't convince her to go Mac).

Is it possible for FAST to only copy certain things? I don't want it to copy the user-level registry hive and end up with OwenBlacker's problem.

Come to think of it, I'll probably only have full peace of mind that the system is being administered properly if I do the transfer routine myself. The old Windows machine (a desktop I built myself a few years ago) is totally dead, so it should be pretty easy to slap the hard disk into an enclosure and copy stuff over.

No commenter image uploaded BY CATHY AT 01/16/07 01:17 PM

I recently tried this program called PCmover made by Laplink. It costs around $50 bucks and it can move your whole PC to a new one. It moves all the files and settings, but wanna know the best part? It moves INSTALLED programs. I don't know how they do it but it's pretty cool. Saved me lots of time because I didn't need to reinstall all the programs I had. (it also moved my outlook as well, which was a lovely surprise.)

No commenter image uploaded BY WODO AT 11/13/07 02:04 AM

Can it run from a dos command line ?
I have a lot of stuff on an old pc, running on
dos. Give some hints please.

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